How to Establish a Home Yoga Practice

My seven steps for creating a home yoga practice:

  1. Commit
  2. Plan
  3. Claim Space
  4. Sequence
  5. Rejoice
  6. Accept & Adjust
  7. Trust

1. Commit. The first step to beginning a yoga practice at home is setting your intention. Start small. Don’t go for a sweaty 90 minute flow your first day, and at the same time, don’t worry about only getting four breaths in your first down dog. Just decide, today I’m going to practice yoga, and take what comes.

2. Plan. An essential part of getting yourself motivated to step onto your mat each day is planning. Plan for something, anything. Plan to stretch your hamstrings. Plan to open your heart. Plan to turn off your screens and quiet that buzzing in your ears. Plan to release the anxieties of a bad day. With time, this step fades in importance because a home practice eventually becomes a habit, so each time you start you’ll realize what it is you stand to gain from practicing. Stay with me.

3. Claim Space. This is the most important piece, and the part I struggle with the most. Unlike attending a class at a studio where cell phones are verboten, napping children are miles away, and the only dogs you encounter are of the downward variety, for a successful home practice you must cultivate a place and space. Add to this other confounding factors, like maybe you live in a little house like mine, and don’t have a yoga room. Or maybe you have a newborn who needs to nurse every twenty minutes. Or your living room is messy, and all your yoga leggings are dirty. Take stock of your challenges and recognize that they are surmountable. Yoga requires very little square footage, babies eventually sleep, clutter can be transcended, and naked yoga is a thing.

Roll with the challenges that threaten to prevent you from breathing big. The days when the path to your mat is less fraught with demands will be the glory days. Remember that practice is practice–practice is never perfect. But sometimes we achieve what we are practicing for, so look forward with glee to the days when your home savasana coincides with the morning light streaming through your windows and your pug dog napping at your side. Staking a sacred place to practice is so essential, but it need not be on consecrated ground. Some of the best home practice spaces I’ve found are wedged between a bed and a bureau, share a wall with a noisy neighbor, and have squeaky uneven floor boards. But the spaces become sacred because they’re mine and mine alone and in this crazy world, and that is the best space I can hope for.

4. Sequence. Even though I have been practicing yoga for over 12 years, starting with a routine helps me commit to a more dedicated time on my mat. I think there are infinite variations of how you can start your practice; I like to begin with 5 sun A’s & 5 sun B’s, with a 5 breath count for each posture. After this foundation is set, I let my body flow through whatever I need for the day being careful to maintain balance–that is, a forward fold to counteract an inversion, or a heart opener to level out a twist, and respect for the left and right side bodies. I realize going with the flow isn’t for everybody, and I am thankful that I have a strong practice to allow me this extemporaneous flexibility and movement. For true beginners, there are several decent online streaming class websites that offer guidance. I have mixed feelings about following these classes, since it definitely takes away a piece of the “self” part of a home practice. But helpful nonetheless for new yogis. Instead of classes, I suggest getting a manual or flash cards, and flipping through images of the postures to move through. With time, you will learn to rely on these less, and part of your planning piece before you arrive at your mat can be spent watching short youtube clips on any specific questions you have about how an asana is performed properly. Always, whether we are beginners or lifelong practitioners, it is so important to follow the limits and abilities of your body. When in doubt, modify.

5. Rejoice. I said above that eventually a home practice becomes a habit. There are some harried days in my life that have been too frantic to take the time to roll out my mat. Some days, forward folding on the floor for two minutes while the oven preheats is all it takes to remind me how much I revere the simple act of breathing and stretching. Those days that feel scary or sad are transformed by a practice, and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that I rely on the comfort and safety of yoga to guide me gently through hardships and joys. The ecstatic moments when I hold handstand for ten breaths to a hip hop soundtrack are as empowering as the silent seated twists I have in the dawn lights. Realize that any instant we can capture for self-awareness and reflection makes us stronger and more joyful human beings.

6. Accept & Adjust. I’ve written before how the more yoga I do, the more yoga I crave. And it is so true that my home practice has morphed from something I used to do exclusively alone during nap time, bedtime, or in the wee hours of the morning, into an activity I invite my son to join me in. I have a much more playful practice when my toddler is afoot, but this does not lessen the gains. This step, I believe, is the one that has most sustained my regular practice. Because there will always be days when I would rather sleep in past 5:30am, I must grant myself the permission to practice alongside train track construction. Self-indulgent, maybe. But it is a variety of self-care that is hopefully teaching my son healthy coping mechanisms for living in this vast and unpredictable world. If nothing else, we can always return to our poses to take some breaths before we again face the busy world that demands so much.

7. Trust. The last step, I think, for establishing a home practice, is trusting yourself to do what you need, and to heed the yoga call. Sometimes in traditional classes, I silently ache through unnecessary explanations or poses that go on longer than I want. The process of changing into yoga clothes, traveling to a studio, paying $15 for a class, stressing about whether the babysitter will remember to offer carrots with snack, and wondering if I remembered deodorant that day or not is often more taxing than any relaxation gained from the class. But with a home practice, you get to choose what you want and leave what you don’t. It is a great metaphor for life, and one that serves me day after day. Trust that yoga is a legitimate priority, and take it easy on yourself if it takes some time to find a groove.

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The Emotional Workout

Something stirred inside me today. Some deep part of me that was buried– in my chronically tight shoulders or neck, I believe. Both are more open now, but it did not come easily.

Maybe it was the discouraging week I had, the rain and tropical storm warnings left few opportunities to be outside for very long, and I was starting to get quieted down and overly-rested with the weather. But then during this morning’s practice, something stirred, released, and left a multitude of emotions and feelings in its wake. It was about being assertive, knowing what is worth fighting for, and what to calmly walk away from. My quiet and grateful mood on the morning drive to the studio seemed to match the lunchtime traffic–aggressive and in a hurry. I wanted to be first in line at the farm stand, and I utilized my car’s turbo more often than I really needed to, arriving home with a shorter temper than when I left.

One of the things about yoga: it touches everything in your life, if you let it. My yoga practice is like wringing out a cloth, there is always more to be extracted and manifested. I return to it day after day (err, hour after hour…) because it brings me such a solid ground from which to move. So I am surprised and disquieted when I leave my mat feeling emotional and mentally weary, but I shouldn’t be.

Yoga has been better for me than my thirteen straight years of talk therapy. It usually gently prods free the things I’d rather not think about but need to release to make room for more love. It is very jarring to sit up from a savasana with less steadiness than when we start, but it is an important part of the process. Its like the newly released emotions are still powerful enough to wound again, live (invisible) wires shooting out of the chakras. The yoga mat is a space for the mind as much as it is for feet and hands to grip the earth during the asanas. As the body learns to let go of its long-ingrained holding patterns and rigid postures, folded within the tight muscles are little pieces of hurt, anger, frustration, embarrassment, fear, and anxiety. That is why we’re so loose as young children, we have no emotional attachments except for love, and that is all we need to be happy. On the yoga mat we learn how to take moments of meditation throughout the day, gaining an innate sense of what is right and wrong and what is possible at this point in time.

I know it might sound ridiculous, but think about it. Muscle tightness is one factor in the struggle to touch the toes to the head in scorpion, but the emotional bracing which forbids this movement is the key to unlocking the full expression of the pose. I think this is one reason people have a hard time sticking with yoga classes, or choose other more forms of active purely cardiovascular forms of exercise. Sure, yoga as exercise is part of the reason I do it, but I never would have stuck with it this long if it didn’t also stretch my mind, my heart, and my spirit.

Today I stewed over a few relationships and situations, berating myself for spending time even thinking about it. But then, sometime while I was at the beach with my family, all those urgent feelings of hurt and anger dissipated with a puff. They were uncovered during my practice, and then released into the hot salty sea air–the perfect place for such emotions to simmer away. I breathed love into places of my heart that had been overtaken by negativity. I’ll sleep without trouble tonight now that I have let go of some anger and confusion no longer bound within my hips.

 


InstaInspiration

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration. Where it comes from, how it waxes and wanes, the intensity of some moments when one just has to go write (or run, or dance, or sing). It is a funny thing, inspiration, and it can come from the most unlikely places sometimes. Like social media, and for me these days it is culled from: Instagram.

Towards the middle of February, my staled practice was galvanized into a new form when I stumbled across the different yoga challenges that take place on social media. It was a fortunate find, because I was suffering through bouts of seasonal sadness, and without friends and family around it was tough to stay positive some days. The challenges led me towards a deeper level of study and meaning when I saw all the beautiful yoga postures and wisdom coursing through my feed. Though most days I wake early and practice without struggle, the aspiration to full locust rouses me to it on the days I’d rather crawl under the covers with Mr. Murakami. Practice daily has become a mantra, and my virtual yoga community helps to keep me accountable.

Suddenly, out of no where it seemed, the inspired (me) became the inspirer (also me?!). photo

I moved away from pictures of formless landscapes and material acquisitions and have been putting my own form on display. Followers who I didn’t know gave my pictures a second glance began to comment about their attempts to incorporate more yoga into their lives.

Putting pictures of my Self onto the vast interwebs was hard for me in some ways, simple in others. When I was 20, my body was like a source of shame and the physical representation of a long buried sadness. In the years since, I’ve worked hard (some days and months I’ve needed to work harder than others) to move past my issues with the physical body.

But lately it has been effortless. A conscious choice to remove animal products from my diet (more on my new veganism another time…) has left me feeling calmer than I’ve ever felt, yet so energetic and full of hope. I’m proud of my more than five year progress with scorpion pose, and even though I can rarely hold it for more than half a minute, I am exhilarated by the strength of my muscles and my bones; I do not shrink away from the growth of my body–I am empowered by it.

For me, instagram ignited a circle of inspiration, inwards and outwards. Inside to myself, I reflect on my past, and celebrate my present. Outwardly, I share pictures of my asanas, not because I want to show off my body in a bikini or brag about my forearm stand, but because I want to acknowledge that I am happy, I am healthy, and I am dedicated to my yoga practice wherever I am in the world (right now South Carolina happens to be very hot). The encouragement I get from others inspires me back, and when people proudly tell me about their 30 minute practice on the beach, I am grateful that I am the one they want to share their accomplishment with. An ever broadening circle of inspiration.

I’m alone for much of my day. My son is still pre-verbal, and frankly I get pretty darn lonely. I post and comment on pictures throughout the day to keep myself company. I am wholly delighted that I am obsessed with yoga now, not calories, not shopping, and not comparing myself to others. I never care how many people like my pictures. My practice remains my own, and I always wait until I am done with my daily meditation and asana practice before shooting pictures. That they happen to add to the circle of inspiration that is the instagram yoga community pleases me greatly.


Too Much Yoga?

I have a question, and I would really love some feedback on this, my dear & sweet readers:

Is there such a thing as too much yoga?

Levitating, Meditating, Flute-playing Gnu

Levitating, Meditating, Flute-playing Gnu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last few weeks, I’ve been randomly asked how many hours I practice per day by numerous people. The answer, in case you’re curious, too, is: 3-4 (meditation and physical asanas). I want to meditate more, but right now it is between 20 and 40 minutes each day total (post-wake and pre-sleep sessions). I utilize the day care at the gym–my son enjoys his time there as much as I enjoy my 1.5-2 hours practicing. Then, I usually follow up at home for another hour to an hour and a half with certain poses I want to explore and track progress on while my child naps. In addition, I practice again when he is in bed for the night, often the shortest sessions of 30-45 minutes. Sprinkle in a few classes at local studios, and of course my ubiquitous beach yoga sessions, and I spend the majority of my free time doing yoga.

Is this too much? I still go about my other daily life activities. I don’t put off any essential responsibilities. The way I understand it is, I’m here in this new state with few friends, zero extended family, and a husband who often works long hours. If the option to hang out with people arises, I shorten or skip a session without a second thought. I don’t write as often, though. And I don’t run or play tennis. I haven’t been doing much css study, and I’ve permanently put my nano novel out of my mind.

So readers, I need some advice. Should I be reading more? Studying child rearing? Memorizing recipes? Cleaning the base boards more often? I don’t really know. I want to be a well-rounded person, and I’m either really excited or really afraid that I’m starting to identify as a yoga practitioner and structure my days around it.

I think I need to work on giving back to the world more. When I was working as a librarian, it was gratifying because I was working to further a societal institution. I’ve been volunteering in a library a couple of hours each week, but maybe that is not enough.

Would it be feeding my yoga addiction to seek a way to better the world around me through…well, yoga?

Related: I wonder if Betty Friedan would have done yoga if it was as accessible as it is today? I just finished reading this book, and it was fascinating!!


On Unseen & Deliberate Creation, or: A Highly New Age Way to Look at Rejection

(I have been thinking about writing this post for quite a while.)

There are possibilities everywhere, and it is hard not to let the mind wander toward exciting uncharted territory. There are the possibilities we actively seek out, taking their shape in goals, cover letters, bruised wrists, and brazen moves out of state. Then there are the possibilities that we can only wish and pray into being. We all wished to win the lottery (it helps to buy a ticket though), we wish natural disasters don’t occur, we wish for lovely weather when our far away friends visit; and I wished that I said the right thing in the right conversation that would have landed an offer of employment.

The HR rep greeted me warmly, and reminded me to “just breathe,” which I brashly shrugged off.

I could have used another breath.
I sat down parched, then thankful to see paper cups of water in front of each place. As the deputy director was going over some initial details, I gratefully sipped my cup.  It slowly dawned on me that, in fact, there was no paper cup of water for me. I had just touched my lips and tongue to the executive director’s cup. Burning with apologies, I tried to move on from my error as the interview trio politely shrugged it off. There was probably a way I could have recovered from that egregiousness, but whatever it could have been was beyond me. Those interview questions I should have practiced would have come in handy then.

I walked out of that interview more defeated than I’ve felt in a very long time. I wallowed for the evening, and the next day. I perked up here and there, convincing myself my errors really weren’t all that bad. But they were. Oh reader, they were heinous.

This was April 1. For many reasons that I hope to go into with another post, I joined an instagram yoga challenge.  So when I finally got that email that said, “thanks, but no thanks,” I had something else to think about. It was a moment of unseen, though very deliberate, creation, and it has re-ignited my buried passion.

photo

I’ve done more yoga in the last two months than I have in many years…maybe ever. It has helped me realize that job was not my dream job, it was just a job. Looking back, I see my hesitations.

Self-sabotage of the best sort.

How did that spark inside me that trained to be a yoga teacher five years ago get so obscured? It is a little strange for me to be on the cusp of the next decade of my life, and still not know precisely what my career will look like. But I’ve been opening to new possibilities that I never would have seen if I got this 9-5 job I lusted after. Teaching yoga. Getting a 2nd Masters. Going to the beach every beautiful day with my son. Volunteering with the troubled local school system. Going to France and to live in a little cottage by the sea. Meeting and celebrating my new niece this summer.

Anyways, I felt like I needed to document this episode of my life, and thank you for reading. It is reassuring to know there is no such thing as a dream job, for me, right now. That position for included zero discussion of creativity. And yoga, definitely no yoga in the job description. So I’m settling in for a summer of possibilities manifesting, and setting the stage for a happy next decade of my life.

Surely Hafiz can’t be wrong:

“This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”


The Earth & The Body

This is how I aspire to practice. The earth and the body in harmony. Not following prescribed poses called out from a platform, but doing just what feels good.

Yoga outside is the ultimate experience of the poses, for me.

Watch this and I guarantee you will be inspired.

 


Sunday Goal

Sometimes I just want time to stop. Or at least slow down so I can savor the day’s moments before going on to the next one. The azaleas, camellias, spirea, Dutch iris, anemones, and redbud blooms that all peaked last week are already colorfully decorating the ground. I thought I had time to enjoy them before they gave way to their hearty green leaves.

Milestones don’t stop happening when you become an adult. There are times that we grown ups finally learn to let in understanding, forgiveness, happiness. Maybe it doesn’t happen all of the sudden (maybe it does). Lately, I think of growing up akin to the process of letting my muscles become loose enough to comfortably sit in hanumanasana. It is said that the human body is innately flexible, that under anesthesia a doctor can contort his patient into any shape; but, the conscious nervous system prevents us from touching our toes when we want to, or flopping into double pigeon before a proper warm up. Little by little as an adult, I am learning what it means to hold grudges, to allow toxic people to influence my life choices, to be genuinely happy for the (seemingly) stress free life my sister lives. As I come to these realizations, I wonder if my busyness (you know, the pull to the iPhones, the computer, the newspaper sitting unread on the kitchen table) has been interfering with my ability to grow as a human?

This is a lofty question, and I do not intend to solve it on a quiet Sunday evening. But I am making a resolve: Sundays will be the day I unplug. I’m going to leave my phone where I don’t look at it when I am unoccupied for 30 seconds. I will use my real cameras. I’m going to stop checking social media on Sundays, devote this day to my family, my self, and the calming of my mind for a week ahead.

Upward and onward, is how I try to think about life. But sometimes, you just want to stay in bed. To rewind time and relive the amazing day you had with your family. Go back to the age of 1.5 and take back all the times you refused to nap and line them all up for an epic lie in. I’m not a lazy person, but who doesn’t long to linger in savasana?  With this time I dust together on Sundays, I might make a dent in the to be read pile that is higher than the nightstand, finish a pot of tea, reuse the leaves and drink a second pot. On Sundays, I will stop hurrying the dog through his morning routine, and I might finally pot all the plants that are rooting in glass jars along my windowsills. I’ll read more books to my son, keep reading aloud even when his attention fades after five minutes. On Sundays in savasana, I will let myself cross that visible barrier between consciousness and sleep. I might fold laundry too, but only if I feel like doing it mindfully. No folding laundry begrudging the amount of socks my family wears. I can resume my despair of sock matching on Monday, but Sunday should be a day of peace. A day of action within every moment of inaction.

Don’t you agree?